Fast Times at Marina Bay?
While Peter was the conservative brother, the one with a stable family life and a name that tended to appear in the papers only in connection with the family’s various projects, William was never a man people might describe as upstanding. He was a workaholic, but high-profile trouble seemed to swirl around him. In 1990, his 29-year-old son, Matthew “Ky” O’Connell, was convicted of second-degree murder for killing 22-year-old Julie Hamilton, a friend of a friend. Her body was found in a shallow grave near the house Ky shared with his mother, Mary McLain. During the trial, McLain testified that as a child Ky had frequently set fires and ripped apart his teddy bears. The night of the murder, she remembered, he’d woken her three times to ask where she kept a pick and shovel. Ky was sentenced to life in prison, but was eventually transferred to Bridgewater State Hospital, a facility for convicts in need of psychiatric care.
Then, in 2002, William was charged in the accidental death of his longtime best friend, Bill Sanderson, a South Shore real estate agent. During a Fourth of July celebration, Sanderson was struck by the propeller of William’s boat, which had been anchored illegally in shallow water off Martha’s Vineyard. Peter O’Connell rode to the hospital with Sanderson, holding the dying man. William O’Connell left the scene, later claiming he was simply looking for a safe place to dock, but once on land he refused to take a police Breathalyzer test. Sanderson’s widow, Donna, asked the judge for leniency. William was put on six months’ pretrial probation on the negligent homicide charge and received a 120-day suspension of his driver’s license, and the case was dismissed.
William O’Connell was regarded in some circles as a womanizer and party boy with a destructive nature. Six years later he was involved in a private-helicopter crash with two New Hampshire women in their early twenties.
And so by the time news of William’s most recent troubles surfaced in May of this year, people were well used to hearing about his assorted transgressions. But even by the standards of his checkered past, the allegations in his latest mogul-gone-wild episode — charges of child rape and drug trafficking — were shocking.
THE GIRL, NOW 15, returned home in October 2010. For a year now, her mother had noticed her daughter’s expensive clothing, the new cell phones, her increasingly troubled mood. But whenever she was confronted, the girl denied that anything was wrong.
She finally shared her secret with a friend, and then, in March of this year, with the police. She told them of the past two years, of the fancy condo and the numerous times she’d been given cash and had sex with William O’Connell and — at his direction — several others. She also told police that William kept a metal safe in the back of a closet at his Marina Bay condo. State police searched the residence on March 31. According to police, the safe turned out to contain 18.49 grams of cocaine — enough for prosecutors to charge William with felony trafficking. The authorities also tracked down and arrested Kookie, who was identified as 21-year-old Phyllis Capuano of Everett.
O’Connell’s lawyer, Stephen Delinsky, lays out a very different story from the one the girl tells. He insists that the whole thing was a setup: Bill — a man who liked to help people — was being extorted. “When the facts are revealed, it will become apparent to everybody that [William] is the victim of malicious lies,” Delinsky says. “Mr. O’Connell was the victim of extortion. He never had any physical relationship with this woman. The allegations are made up.” In Delinsky’s mind, the case has classist undertones. He cites what he calls similar cases in which prominent defendants — including members of the Duke lacrosse team and, more recently, French economist and politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn — were wrongly accused of sexual misconduct. Delinsky won’t comment on how his client and the girl were introduced. “The extortion is a very complicated story and I can’t reveal everything, but there are clear motives for this woman to come forward the way she did,” he says. “Mr. O’Connell has helped a lot of people. To help somebody is not a crime.”